What is Sustainability?
Conscious shopping can be a minefield, and with a multitude of different terms in use it often becomes a little confusing. More and more consumers are moving towards conscious and considered purchases with the future of the planet in mind, but it’s all too easy to become overwhelmed by the terminology.
With so many phrases describing different types of sustainability practices, it can be difficult to decipher what impact our decisions are having on the environment. With that in mind, we’ve put together a glossary aiming to break down and understand what some of these widely-used phrases mean.
The term sustainable is used to denote a product that has been developed to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations, to meet their own needs,” as set out by the United Nations in 1987. In other words, it’s not a process that will wear itself out as the production cycle and materials are, to some extent, infinite. It takes into account all areas of production including, but not limited to, the social impact, the environment and the economical feasibility and longevity.
Used rather ambiguously as an umbrella term for being kind to the planet - in reality, there are very few companies and products (if any) out there that are truly sustainable, although many of which are endeavouring to work towards this for our future generations.
Organic is used to describe materials that have been grown without the use of synthetic chemicals such as pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. It is a defined term, and means the materials used have been grown in compliance with the guidelines of organic agriculture. For example, certified organic cotton is grown usually in subtropical climates, from non-GMO plants and without the use of synthetic chemicals, therefore protecting the environment from toxic substances.
Ecology is an area of biology that studies organisms and their effect on each-other and their surroundings. The phrase eco-friendly is used to describe a product that has been developed to have little or no negative impact on the environment. Within fashion, the term is used for materials such as organic cotton or hemp, organic dyes, or a garment/material that uses very little water to produce.
The term conscious when used in relation to consumerism is relatively self-explanatory. It refers to the health and environmental standards of the producer or the consumer, as well as an awareness of our impact on our surroundings.
Ethical fashion also encompasses many areas of production, although it is not strictly defined and covers a range of issues. These issues include but are not limited to working conditions, environmental impact and animal welfare. The term tends to be indicative of fair pay for workers and of little negative environmental impact. Not only will the manufacturing have little negative impact, but ideally it will actually have a positive effect on the planet as well as on the lives of those employed within each step of the production process.
Carbon neutral is the name given to a product that reaches net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. This can either be by eliminating all carbon emissions or by balancing the emissions with carbon removal (carbon offset), such as reforestation or funding renewable energy efforts. The idea behind offsetting is to increase the ability of environmental projects to actively reduce greenhouse gas emissions through funding. Offsetting is a debated practice; whilst being positive in it’s intention and outcome, there is an argument that it leads to complacency and is too focussed in the aftermath, rather than tackling the route of the issue.
Biodegradable products can be broken down by bacteria without releasing harmful chemicals, therefore reducing pollution. In terms of clothing, this usually applies to organic cotton or hemp that has been dyed with organic dyes. In order for something to biodegrade it must be commercially composted rather than thrown away to end up in a landfill, where the conditions aren’t right for it to biodegrade. Biodegradable is different to compostable, which refers to a product that can be placed in a compost heap where it will disintegrate into natural elements and not release any toxins.
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